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Friday, May 25, 2012

Savannah’s Great Southern Restaurants

BLT salad with fried green tomatoes

While I have traveled the world over many times, I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve visited only twenty-something states in the USA.  To add a few more states, I’m currently on a three week journey to Georgia and the Carolinas. My best meals thus far have been in Savannah.  Both restaurants are on my do-not-miss list for foodies.

Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room has been on the cover of Time magazine with articles in Gourmet, Esquire, the New York Times and countless other venues.  David Brinkley featured it on his evening news broadcast.  Celebrity visitors have been innumerable.  With all of this hoopla, my expectations of this 65 year old bastion of southern cooking were high…and Mrs. Wilkes delivered.
The restaurant is only open for three hours at lunch.  The line starts forming well before the doors open and snakes down and around the block---this continues until the restaurant closes.  I don’t like lines but I have to admit this one was actually fun…we were surrounded by locals, as well as folks from all over the country, who make regular pilgrimages to eat this “old-time-family-style food”.  Their rich stories of prior meals at the restaurant served as the appetizer course.

Formerly a boarding house, Mrs. Wilkes pays homage to its roots and offers only community tables.  Awaiting us on our table was >20 side dishes which were all passed among the eight diners.  My favorites included the rutabagas, squash, succotash, collard greens and the freshly made yeast rolls.  Large platters of delicious, non-greasy fried chicken were presented, along with beef stew and pork covered with an excellent BBQ sauce.  Those who possibly had room for dessert were served either banana pudding or cherry cobbler.  

The 4th generation of Wilkes are now running the restaurant---they are armed with MBA’s from the South’s finest universities.  Let’s hope that they don’t change a thing.

I came to The Pink House by accident.  I had read several of its reviews and comments were hot and cold.  I wasn’t sure if it was a candidate until, by chance, I walked by the mansion.  A compelling building, this National Landmark (which had served as headquarters for Sherman during the Civil War) drew me inside like a bee to honey.  Once in the interior I knew I couldn’t resist its charms.  Beautifully coiffed, this southern belle had all the glitz and glam of pre-war Gone with the Wind. 

Although it was early afternoon, all dinner reservations were taken for the next two nights.  I remembered that there was a tavern downstairs where diners were accommodated on a first-come first served basis (and it offered the exact menu as the main dining room).  We checked it out---while not the elegant antebellum allure of the upstairs, it was nonetheless romantic in a different way---dark, candlelit, with wooden beamed ceilings….a place where Rhett Butler would have courted a lady.

Fortunately, we were able to snag the last table in the secluded downstairs that evening.  The wine list was comprehensive and very well chosen…even wines by the glass were a huge cut above the usual ones offered.  I highly recommend the fried green tomato BLT—this one, however, is not a sandwich but an ethereal salad.  One of the Pink House’s signature dishes, this salad should not be missed.  The she-crab soup, made from Atlantic blue crab, was one of the best seafood bisques I’ve tasted.  My husband’s bourbon molasses grilled pork tenderloin (accompanied by sweet potatoes with pecan vanilla butter and collard greens) was absolutely flawless---according to him “the best pork tenderloin I’ve ever had.”  That’s saying something as if it’s on a menu, there’s a 90% chance he’ll order it.  To complete a perfect package, the service was sublime.

There are no accidents in life…I was destined to dine at the Pink House.  Furthermore, I was so impressed with the southern style food of Savannah that I have decided that Wine-Knows must bring a group here.  Put it on your calendars….Savannah and Charleston in the spring of 2014!   And, stay tuned for the Charleston reviews…

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